Renewable energy: Scottish and Arctic nations can look forward to a bright future – Angus Robertson

Scotland is the most northerly neighbour in the world to the Arctic. Out closest overseas Arctic neighbours include Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Faroe Islands and Greenland.
Reykjavik played host to the recent Arctic Council Assembly (Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Reykjavik played host to the recent Arctic Council Assembly (Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Reykjavik played host to the recent Arctic Council Assembly (Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

With shared outlooks, features, challenges and opportunities, it is hugely welcome that cooperation is at an all-time high. The recent Arctic Council Assembly in Iceland was attended by the largest-ever delegation from Scotland, with attendees from the Scottish Government, parliament, councils, academia, business, culture and third-sector. This builds on consistent attendance over recent years by Scottish ministers, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who has been three times.

Ninety-eight per cent of Scotland’s landmass is classified as rural, but contains only 17 per cent of the country’s population. Scotland has 96 inhabited islands and the population density of the Highlands and Islands region is among the lowest in Europe. The Shetland archipelago is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London. It is located at the latitude of Cape Farewell in Greenland and Juneau in Alaska.

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Scotland has already published an Arctic policy framework reflects on shared challenges, particularly those stemming from rurality and remoteness, and explores avenues for even closer cooperation. A key priority is working with like-minded partners to develop joint solutions to these shared challenges and improve the resilience and well-being of our communities.

From empowering rural areas to accelerating decarbonisation, from promoting indigenous languages to developing sustainable tourism solutions, there is a lot Scotland and Arctic countries can work together on. Since 2000, institutions in Scotland have contributed to more than 1,000 academic publications about the Arctic region. Forty per cent of projects funded through the EU’s Northern Periphery and Arctic programme, 2016-2020, included a Scottish partner with a significant focus on environmental change.

Climate change is endangering the future of the Arctic and of our entire planet. Scotland is a committed partner to international efforts, having hosted the COP26 climate change summit and co-chairing the Under-2 Coalition. The coalition brings together over 270 governments representing 1.75 billion people and 50 per cent of the global economy. Members have committed to keep global temperature rise well below 2C with efforts to reach 1.5C. Over 40 states and regions have committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.

More than 2,000 delegates from across the Arctic region and partner nations attended the 2022 Arctic Council Assembly in Reykjavik’s stunning Harpa conference centre and concert hall. Scottish Government participation included me addressing the assembly plenary, hosting a breakout session together with the Canadian Research Council and a Team Scotland reception for Scottish attendees. Positive bilateral discussions were held with Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Foreign Minister Thórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörd Gylfadóttir, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who masterminded the event, and national delegations.

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There is particular interest in co-operation in the development of renewable energy. Given Scotland has only two per cent of Europe’s population but 25 per cent of its wind energy capacity, it’s well placed to work with similarly sized, renewables-rich northern neighbours. Continental European countries are extremely keen to import the green hydrogen which Scotland will be able to export in the years ahead. One key opportunity will come with direct hydrogen interconnections with countries like Germany. Scottish cooperation with northern Nordic neighbours will be of direct benefit to the whole of Europe.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary